Eclectic Electives Offer Expanded Education



Nestled in this spring's course catalog are a number of classes that, although they may not fulfill general education mandates or meet degree requirements, offer students the chance to expand their minds in the true liberal arts tradition.

"Latino/Hispanic Thought," a new class taught by Jorge J. E. Gracia, Samuel P. Capen chair and distinguished professor of philosophy, is one such course.

"This is a broad course that seeks to raise general questions not raised anywhere else, including broad questions of ethics and justice," said Gracia. "All this is intended to provide a better understanding of the issues that concern this group and other ethnic and racial groups in the U.S."

Bruce Jackson, a distinguished English professor and Samuel P. Capen professor of American culture, is curator of an upcoming exhibit at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery focusing on what Jackson believes is one of America's most influential and overlooked time periods: the 1950s. He and Distinguished Teaching Professor Diane Christian will offer a class on the exhibit next semester, featuring expert lecturers both on North Campus and at the gallery.

"We'll be talking with people who were working on things of the period, motorcycles, comic books, rock music and things like that," said Jackson. "It was a very rich period for both popular culture and political ideas."

Jackson hopes to draw in a variety of students, although he admitted it might be difficult to pull in students of different backgrounds due to the often-rigid course requirements of certain majors.

"One of the problems is that [students] can't take as many electives as they used to, their life is very circumscribed, especially engineers," he said.

"I would hope it would appeal to anybody, as it discusses culture and how it manifests itself," said Jackson. "We're looking at the '50s, but the principles behind our look are applicable anywhere, anytime."

Among other atypical courses offered at UB are "Architecture of New York: Colonial History," "Frank Lloyd Wright," "Race, Class, and Gender in the U.S. Military," and "Third World Cinema," a course that "introduces students to a collection of film and television productions, from colonized countries whose political, economic, and cultural structures have been shaped by the colonial process," according to UB's 2001-2002 Undergraduate Catalog.

The university actively encourages professors to teach unique classes if they have a desire to do so, said Gracia.

"The department does not question my right to do this, and in fact encourages this kind of new course," said Gracia. "I teach it because I want to teach it."

Most undergraduate degrees offered by UB require students to take a few courses not directly related to the subject matter of the major, besides the standard undergraduate general education classes all UB students are supposed to take before they graduate.

Aside from general education and degree requirements, students may also take such elective courses for personal interest, or, as is often the case, to broaden their horizons in hopes of impressing future employers.

"Nearly all medical schools and prospective employers will tell you that they want students who are good at more than just one thing," said Will Goldenberg, a fifth-year history major and academic assistant who hopes to attend medical school. "Schools and firms want someone with a liberal arts background too, just as much as they want someone with a biology background.

"I know that a few of the electives that I took previously, like African politics and psychology, will make them see that I'm interested in other things besides history and science."

Gracia emphasized the importance of taking courses outside one's specialized area of interest in order to fully complete one's education.

"Having courses outside one's major is of the essence of a true education," said Gracia. "The mark of a true educated person is to be broadly-based, having a grasp of many issues and being able to function in different circumstances."